Vagabond Shark

Ideas, Bikes, Art, Design, Architecture, Politics, Tech, Software

Archive for the ‘planning’ Category

Open Letter: Create a place in Aloha

Posted by Peter W on January 27, 2008

So if you don’t know, ‘Aloha’ is the name of an area in unincorporated Washington County (in Oregon). It isn’t even a town yet, but the Metro regional government says it should be one of the Metro Town Centers. Below is a letter asking that the County plans for the Aloha Town Center and rebuilds 185th Avenue as part of that.

Dear Commissioner Schouten,

I’m ecstatic to read in the paper that the County will have an open house this Thursday to talk about the 185th project between the highway and the high school. I can’t wait until it is finally safe to walk or ride a bike along what is now a nasty stretch of asphalt.

I’m very excited, but at the same time I’m worried. Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Posted in MSTIP, planning, transportation, washington county | Leave a Comment »

Its time to starting thinking about the ‘I’ word.

Posted by Peter W on December 10, 2007

The Oregonian had an article about Washington County thinking about the ‘A’ word: Annexation. The county will be having discussions in 2008 to talk about how to provide urban services and so far it sounds like they’ve just been discussing annexations (which of course Beaverton and Hillsboro are happy to talk about too).

Might it also be time to start talking about the ‘I’ word: incorporation? Perhaps it doesn’t make sense to have just two sprawling cities. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have Aloha, Reedville, South Hillsboro, and North Bethany urbanize and become towns or cities.

The advantage of incorporation over annexation is that citizens would have more voice in what their tax money goes to (which seems to be people’s biggest reason to resist annexation – they don’t want the cities to siphon off tax money without providing something valuable in return).

Of course, people may not even feel the need to be incorporated, since they currently get ‘urban’ services from non-city sources such as the Parks District (THPRD), the Fire District (TVF&R), the county’s enhanced sheriff patrols in urban areas, Clean Water Services (sewage and storm water management), and a county wide library service. In addition, the county provides urban transportation infrastructure and is now doing urban planning for North Bethany and West Bull Mountain.

It seems like the two options are:

1. Combine all the currently urban, unincorporated area into a new mega-city.

Basically the county would spin off its urban services into a new city that would serve all of the urban unincorporated area in the county.

2. Encourage incorporation of separate cities.

The best way to encourage this would be to make it known that the county wants this, let people know what they need to do for this to happen, and most importantly, the county would scale back the urban services it provides. I think scaling back services would have the biggest effect. What if the library system only served people within city boundaries? What if the sheriff patrols were equalized between urban and rural areas? What if when the county planned for new areas, they also planned for them to incorporate as a new town? Finally, what if the county declared that only areas inside cities would be eligible for urban transportation infrastructure improvements?

The main advantage of having many smaller towns or cities is that they could each be designed to be self sufficient, with a good jobs/housing mix and a town center with grocery stores and markets, restaurants, a library, fitness centers and other things people use often. That would make peoples communities more livable, make it easier to walk or bike to commute or for errands, and would reduce cross-county automobile trips.

This is wishful thinking now, but they could also link up each town or city center with high speed and frequent rail service to make getting around easy for folks who need to. This is even more wishful thinking, but if there was green fields between towns, you would be just a short walk away from the country, and people could get food from very nearby local farms (can you imagine what will happen when we run out of oil, gas costs $30 a gallon, and our society still depends on trucking in food from even just 20 miles away?).

I’m looking forward to bringing these ideas to discussion next year.

Posted in beaverton, hillsboro, north bethany, parks, planning, washington county | Leave a Comment »

MSTIP and TIF

Posted by Peter W on November 27, 2007

I have some ideas about MSTIP and TIF in Washington County, and I’m putting them here for everyone to consider.

MSTIP (Major Streets Transportation “Improvement” Program) is basically a program where the county takes a bunch of property tax money from county residents (regardless of how much you might drive) and builds fatter roads that make it easy for people to continue to drive more and more in our increasingly sprawled out region. TIF (Traffic Impact Fee) funds essentially the same big-road projects, but with a fee developers pay (essentially regardless of how bike/pedestrian friendly–or car unfriendly–the development is).

Now, the County seems to think it is friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians when really it tends to just provide the bare minimum that is required by law (sidewalks and bike lanes). Currently the County is planning to collect $420 million over 6 years and of that, will spend a total of $20 million on ‘special’ projects, including bike, pedestrian, and bridge projects.

The County wants people to believe they are working toward a balanced transportation system, but thats just not true:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in MSTIP, planning, transportation, washington county | Leave a Comment »

Murray Road – A Freeway in the not too distant future?

Posted by Peter W on November 12, 2007

The front page image in the Washington County slides linked to from this post shows an artists depiction (below) of a project that I saw earlier on a WCCC road projects list.

Overpass on Murray Road

Alarmed by this, I asked the City of Beaverton about it (along with another project on their list–a five lane connection from Hall Blvd to Jenkins Rd which would go right though an existing neighborhood). It turns out that although these projects are on Beaverton’s list of plans, they are low priority projects that were included in the County list only because the County didn’t ask about priorities. It is scary though, that the County just assumed projects like these, that would obviously have a severely negative impact on bike and pedestrian modes, as well as neighborhood livability (or even neighborhood existence in the Hall Blvd case), should be among the first projects funded by the next Washington County MSTIP funding initiative.

In fact, the general trend in the Washington County MSTIP plans seems to be widening 2 lane roads to 3 lanes, widening 3 lane roads to 5 lanes, and even widening the 5 lane TV Hwy to 7 lanes. It makes me wonder – when does this pattern end? If the roads weren’t wide enough before, what guarantees that they will be wide enough after reconstruction? Will they just alleviate congestion temporarily while enabling more auto-dependent development at the urban fringes, which will in turn require another round of road widening projects? I also wonder what happens immediately after roads are widened? If it just enables more traffic, won’t that cause more congestion on the roads connected to newly widened roads?

People may currently accept MSTIP road widening projects as necessary and even convenient, but as we run out of easy projects and as it becomes necessary to tear down homes and neighborhoods to make way for more lanes, the political tide will begin to turn against wider roads (and has likely already begun).

But if wider roads don’t fix the traffic problem and people want an alternative, what can be done? Luckily there is an alternative.

The Washington County Department of Land Use and Transportation (DLUT) seems to have left one huge factor out of their supply and demand transportation equations – the demand side. They assume that there is nothing they can do to reduce the amount of driving people do.  But the solution is actually in their name – “Land Use”. Instead of building wider roads to handle growing traffic from new houses far away from businesses, schools, and shopping, the DLUT should focus on promoting infill development and new development in centers, where people are close enough to where they want to go that they wouldn’t need to use a car to make trips (or if they did use their car, at least the trips would be shorter). Resident surveys have already shown that people prefer this to sprawling auto dependent development; the DLUT just needs to start paying attention to what people want and help make that happen. The alternative — continuing our current path and turning our roads into freeways — means more noise, more neighborhoods carved up, less people walking, biking and taking transit, more pollution, and in the end, just more traffic.

Posted in beaverton, MSTIP, planning, transportation, washington county | Leave a Comment »

Washington County 2020 Transportation Needs

Posted by Peter W on November 12, 2007

Today I came across some slides from a presentation made in April about Washington County’s 2020 Transportation needs.

It had some interesting information about current funding and transportation trends, and results from a survey of 403 Washington County residents over 18 years old in May 2006. Below are some of the highlights:

In the last 20 years, transportation capital projects costs totaled $432 million. The 2020 capital projects needs will cost $2.6 billion. [I’m really curious how in the next 12 years we can afford to spend six times more money than we did in the last 20 years.]

There is an expected population increase of 44%, and jobs increase of 70% by 2020 in Washington County. Bike/Ped trips are expected increase by 47%, while auto trips increase by 75%. [Does anyone else think that maybe we need to increase our bike/ped mode split?]

When asked to rate the importance and performance of various goals, the survey found that “well planned to handle growth” was perceived as highly important but the county had low performance on this. Efficient use of tax dollars is also highly important to people but results show that people feel the county’s performance is low in this regard.

“Safety and convenience for pedestrians and bicyclists” was rated more important than easy travel to residential or shopping areas, quick connection to freeways, and travel times being maintained or reduced.
Regarding what was the biggest challenge facing the county, “traffic congestion” was rated as the biggest by 36% of people and “education and schools” was rated the biggest by 34%. [I’m a little confused about the numbers on that slide (p25) because they add up to over 100%. It was pointed out that overall, transportation issues were the #1 concern (65%), but I’m curious if that is just because they allowed multiple selection and gave more transportation choices (“congestion”, “maintenance”, and “infrastructure”) than other categories. I also wonder if bike/ped safety and convenience, and education, would matter more if school age people were included in the survey (hopefully the county isn’t intending to only support the voting part of the public…)]

When asked who should pay for transportation improvements, the result was:

  • 70% fees on new development
  • 55% was assessment on commercial trucks
  • 45% business income tax
  • 42% vehicle registration fees
  • 35% local road maintenance districts
  • 33% gas tax
  • 27% tolls on major freeways
  • 25% property tax
  • 12% personal income tax

(multiple selection was allowed, so #s add to more than 100%)

Note that more people believed a gax tax should fund transportation rather than property tax.

Annually, the current county gas tax raises $600,000 while property tax raises $20,000,000 (in other words, county property tax raises 30 times as much money as the county gas tax).

Among the conclusions is: “Keep resident values in mind when crafting any new funding package”. [Hopefully if they stick to that they will support more bike/ped infrastructure and shift the funding source away from property tax and onto other sources that might also help people make better transportation choices (like gas tax and vehicle registration fees).]

One thing this presentation completely lacked was any discussion about changing the demand for transportation, via programs to encourage alternatives to automobile use, or through land-use changes. I believe that if the County enacted a high fee on new development on the urban fringe where the costs of providing infrastructure are high and where alternative transportation modes are less convenient, then that could potentially have a big impact on encouraging infill development and development in centers. And instead of spending money on capacity improvements which will just enable more sprawl and more traffic, the money could be spent on providing bike/ped safety improvements, connectivity, and improvements in centers that promote denser development; the result would be less reliance on the automobile and hence less traffic.

Posted in MSTIP, planning, transportation, washington county | 1 Comment »

Climate Change, Transit Development in the News

Posted by Peter W on October 29, 2007

We’ve got to do something about climate change:

The planet is in danger of crossing a “tipping point” of irreversible damage to its atmosphere, climate, water and ecosystems unless governments can develop comprehensive strategies to promote growth and sustainability, warns a new report released on Thursday by an environmental advocacy branch of the United Nations.

(full article)

California is trying – with the recently passed Global Warming Solutions Act they plan to “reduce the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020.” But hybrids alone won’t solve the problem.

We need to do a lot more if we’re actually going to reduce our emissions. We’ve got to reduce the amount we drive.

To do that, we need to build in a way that makes it easy to get around. We need to build more homes near jobs, and make sure people can afford those homes. We need to build neighborhoods with shops, services, good public transit, and parks – all within easy walking distance of homes.

[…]

It’s time to turn the Bay Area’s innovative talent to the question of how to use our land well. Instead of saying, “We have to drive, but maybe we should drive a different kind of car,” let’s ask, “How can we make it easier to get where we want to go?” Let’s envision a better way to live for people and the planet, and let’s start making it happen.

(see full article in the San Francisco Chronicle)

Luckily it isn’t just a few newspaper editors that favor smarter growth (more compact cities served by more transit).

Three-fourths of Americans believe that being smarter about development and improving public transportation are better long-term solutions for reducing traffic congestion than building new roads, according to a survey released today by the National Association of Realtors® and Smart Growth America. […]

As evidence of the traction the issue has gained in the last few years, nearly three-quarters of Americans are concerned about the role growth and development plays in climate change. Traffic congestion is still a concern to many Americans as it continues to worsen in most cities in the country. Half of those surveyed think improving public transit would be the best way to reduce congestion, and 26 percent believe developing communities that reduce the need to drive would be the better alternative. Only one in five said building new roads was the answer.

Eight in 10 respondents prefer redeveloping older urban and suburban areas rather than build new housing and commercial development on the edge of existing suburbs. More than half of those surveyed believe that businesses and homes should be built closer together to shorten commutes, limit traffic congestion and allow residents to walk to stores and shops instead of using their cars. Six in 10 also agree that new-home construction should be limited in outlying areas and encouraged in inner urban areas to shorten commutes and prevent more traffic congestion. […]

The 2007 Growth and Transportation Survey was conducted by telephone among 1,000 adults living in the United States in October 2007. The study has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

(via Planetizen).

If Oregon is such a green state, and the majority in the US understands that better transit and smarter development can help combat climate change, why is Washington County continuing to build bigger roads that serve greenfield subdivisions on the urban fringe instead of focusing on better transit, more bike and pedestrian traffic, more compact centers, and urban renewal[1]?

1: Note that I mean urban renewal in the traditional sense: “renewing aging urban places”, not the Washington County Planning dept.’s definition: “supporting greenfield development in future suburban places”. If you don’t already know… the County is considering using “urban renewal” as a source of funds for the North Bethany development, which is a suburb on former fields at the North edge of the county.

Posted in climate change, hillsboro, north bethany, planning, transportation, washington county | Leave a Comment »

Gas prices up, but does anyone care?

Posted by Peter W on October 21, 2007

According to CNN, gas prices are up 60 cents from a year ago. The national average for a gallon of gas is now $2.80, up a nickle in the last two weeks. Over the same two weeks, the price of crude oil went up the equivalent of 18 cents, and as soon as refineries turn that into gas that price raise will be passed on to consumers across the nation.

All this makes me wonder – does Washington County or the cities in it figure in the rising gas prices into their models that determine the projected road capacity needs? Does this constant increase make them consider that we need to alter the kind of transportation system we have, and support more public transit, walking, and cycling? Or does the WCCC plow ahead on a new MSTIP to build more massive roads so people can drive more and so vehicle trip miles can continue to increase?

Posted in peak oil, planning, transportation, washington county | Leave a Comment »

North Bethany School Costs Go Up

Posted by Peter W on October 19, 2007

The Beaverton School District has done new projections for the cost of providing schools for kids in North Bethany, and it doesn’t look good.

The first thing they’ve found is that people North of Hwy 26 have more kids:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in north bethany, planning, school, washington county | Leave a Comment »

North Bethany won’t have high level of transit service

Posted by Peter W on August 20, 2007

I wanted to make sure that people in the North Bethany development could easily get to their destination by transit, so I asked the county:

I noticed that TriMet has been involved in some of the discussions about N. Bethany and I was wondering if they (or any other source) has said how much density is required to support frequent bus service? If so, will N. Bethany be built to that density?

Ideally, North Bethany would be dense enough to support a frequent bus to the Willow Creek MAX stop, Sunset TC, and even downtown Hillsboro, Beaverton, and Portland. But it looks like we’ll be lucky to see the #52 serving any of the area. According to Washington County Planner Laurie Harris:

Phil Selinger, TriMet’s representative on the TAC, gave a presentation at the April 12, 2007 TAC and SWG meetings. The discussion is summarized in the following documents:
SWG meeting summary (page 2): http://www.bethanyplan.org/images/04.12.07swg_summary.pdf
TAC meeting summary (page 2): http://www.bethanyplan.org/images/04.12.07tac_summary.pdf
Phil said that North Bethany likely wouldn’t achieve densities to support high transit service [my emphasis. -peter] throughout North Bethany. In addition to density, there are urban design and development strategies that support transit, such as pedestrian-friendly amenities, sidewalks, and street connections. There is potential to extend Line 52 from PCC into one of the North Bethany neighborhood nodes or community center.

According to papers I’ve read (1, 2, 3) , there are some generally accepted guidelines for densities required to support transit. Here is what I’ve seen (note, the papers didn’t usually say, but I assume they are in units / gross acre):

  • bus service becomes feasible at 7 units per acre
  • frequent bus service becomes feasible at 15 units per acre
  • rail transit becomes feasible at 30 units / acre

If Metro requires that new land brought into the Urban Growth Boundary be developed at 10 units / net acre, how come most of North Bethany won’t support at least infrequent buses? The reason is that the density they are looking at works out to be about 5.75 units / gross acre (equivalent to 10 units / net acre, when you don’t count land used for open space and roads), which isn’t enough to support transit. However, they plan on concentrating higher density development near the main civic center at Kaiser Rd so they can build low density sprawling suburbs on the rest of the site – this might be enough to support transit to that area.

I think the county needs to think more about the proper density for the site. Here are some questions I still have:

  1. Is there enough office/commercial to generate mid day trips to sustain frequent (or even infrequent) during non-commute times?
  2. If a certain level of transit becomes feasible at a given density, how much higher does the density need to be before that level of transit will usually be successful, or even pay for itself?
  3. How much of a given density is required? If most people will only walk 1/4 of a mile to a bus stop, how many people should be within 1/4 of a mile to support that stop, and how many such stops are needed along a service corridor?
  4. I’m guessing that if driving were more expensive, even lower densities would support transit. How much more would driving need to cost for 5.75 units / gross acre to support frequent service?
  5. Can we prove that for the lifetime of the houses (say 100 years), we will always have cheap personal transport? Oil sure looks like it is running out and nothing else promises to be as cheap or easy. If we know we’re running out of cheap oil, is it really appropriate to build at such low, automobile dependent, densities?

Posted in north bethany, planning, transportation, washington county | Leave a Comment »

Federal Government sees end of cheap oil coming

Posted by Peter W on August 18, 2007

Apparently even the Feds realize that we’re running out of oil quickly. I’m reading a study by the Dept. of Energy that is talking about the need to start producing oil from oil shale …

The idea of “peak oil” (the point where production of oil reaches a peak and begins to decline) has been around for a long time. In 1956 a geologist from Shell Oil, M. King Hubbert, forcasted based on oil production data that the US would reach peak oil production in 1976 (he was slightly off – it actually peaked in 1970). Although oil doesn’t run out until long after the peak, the problem is that as soon as the supply of oil fails to meet the demand, the price skyrockets. During the 1970s oil shocks, a 5% decrease in supply resulted in the price quadrupling. Information on peak oil is available on wikipedia, in the general media, and in oil industry news, and extensive info is available from peak oil websites. They even have a major movie coming out now!

Anyway, back to the Energy Dept. study, here’s a few key quotes:

Although there is no agreement about the date that world oil production will peak, forecasts presented by USGS geologist Thomas Magoon (Ref. 6), the OGJ, and others expect the peak will occur between 2003 and 2020 (the year the prediction was made follows the name). What is notable about these predictions is that none extend beyond the year 2020 [my emphasis], suggesting that the world may be facing shortfalls much sooner than expected by the EIA.

2003 – Campbell, 1998
2003 – Deffeyes, 2001
2004 to 2019 – Bartlett, 2000
2007 – Duncan and Youngquist, 1999
2008 – Laherrère, 2000
2010 to 2020 – International Energy Agency (IEA), 1998
2020 – Edwards, 1997

Further, it states:

Every effort needs to be made to reduce oil demand. Conservation and improved end-use efficiency are essential. Higher (real) prices will naturally force consumers to conserve and live within supply constraints. However, a severe supply-demand discontinuity could lead to worldwide economic chaos.

Remember, this is the federal government saying this. Of course, they purpose of their document is to forward the idea of producing more fossil fuels domestically. According to the document, the US has the equivalent to 2 trillion barrels of oil locked up in oil shale, and if we could just make use of that, we’ll be set. There are just a few problems:

  1. Oil shale is not a liquid, but in fact a sedimentary rock. You can’t just stick a pipe in the ground and suck it up as cheap liquid energy.
  2. The hydrocarbon in oil shale isn’t actually oil. It is kerogen, which can be converted to synthetic oil and gas through a chemical process which requires heating it to 570 °F or higher.
  3. There are a number of environmental problems with mining it and processing it, including pollution to groundwater and the air.

Basically it looks like oil shale could be useful for producing some electricity or for heating use or to supply necessary energy to the military, but as far as preserving our automobile and petroleum dependent lifestyles with it… forget it.

Personally, I’m planning on saving some money to move to some place in Europe that was designed and built before people became dependent on oil, where the peak oil shock won’t be so bad.

Posted in peak oil, planning, transportation | Leave a Comment »